Anton Corbijn: Don van Vliet (Captain beefheart)

This is one of the very best portraits. It's the equal to anything ever produced in paint, the more respected medium, by anyone

Someone I knew in the year above me on the photography course at Trent Poly, back in the day, Mark C., was a hard-core Anton Corbijn fan and his enthusiasm got me into him. He wrote his dissertation on Corbijn, who was not the usual fine art subject, but it was a great read, teasing out incredible subtleties of meaning in the images.

I don't recall him writing or mentioning this one, of Captain Beefheart. I've always been very impressed by it, both for its virtuosity, and for the emotional resonance. I imagine it was taken late in the day when the light was fading, my favourite time of day. The grain of the high speed film is pretty intense, like it had its rating bumped up several stops, maybe from 400 all the way up to 1600. It's a wide aperture, the focus is shallow, the desert landsape softening away behind the figure. There is humility in the posture, particularly in the gesture with the hat, a hint of vulnerability. The expressiveness and intimacy coming from the eye contact is incredible. It makes me wonder, has anyone looked into a lens so deeply? And with such tenderness. (If there is type one and type two thinking then this is the type where the mind is fully present.)  In this photograph it is a beautiful face.

Only when looking for this image online I found out Don van Vliet died of MS in 2010. I probably knew from around the time, but had forgotten. He will always live in this picture for me.



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